Rookie linebackers O'Brien Schofield (left) and Daryl Washington will likely end up starting together Saturday night against the Cowboys.
It was during warm-ups a game or two ago when Daryl Washington – just a rookie himself – huddled with fellow linebackers O'Brien Schofield, Reggie Walker and Cyril Obiozor.
"Hey, this might be the future out here," Washington told his teammates. "It could be the future, so let's take this serious, really think about that. Focus your mind on 'What if?' "
Less what-if than reality right now, the Cardinals will see what they could have at linebacker Saturday against Dallas. Injuries and age dictate it must be so.
Starting right-side man Joey Porter sat out practice Wednesday with a tricep strain that at first was feared to be a season-ending tear. It wasn't, and coach Ken Whisenhunt said Porter is rehabbing as quickly as possible to return with just two games left. More likely, however, is Schofield will start in Porter's place against the Cowboys.
Washington had already returned to the starting lineup a couple of games ago as the Mike inside linebacker, after the Cards decided it was better to have the second-round draft pick get valuable time in the defense and instead make veteran Gerald Hayes inactive.
The salaries and age of both Hayes and Porter make their presence on the 2011 roster tenuous at best. Clark Haggans, the starter on the outside left, is also advancing in years and has battled a groin injury for much of the season.
Veteran Paris Lenon has had a solid season – admittedly better than the Cardinals had expected – but other than that, it's a position in transition.
"I like parts of what I've seen," Whisenhunt said. "I'm excited about what they're going to bring our team as we go forward. (But) they're young linebackers."
For Schofield to go from sitting the first six games – unsure if he'd even play this season after undergoing knee surgery in January for a torn ACL – to possibly starting has been a dream. Whisenhunt acknowledged he is ready for Schofield to start even if he isn't comfortable with the rookie.
That's precisely why Schofield wants a chance.
"That coaches already have trust in me to step into that role, that means a lot to me," Schofield said. "I don't want to let them down.
"I was thinking (Tuesday) there were so many naysayers, 'You won't play this year, you won't get drafted, take it as a redshirt year,' that's all I've been hearing. And I knew deep down, that's not what I wanted."
Getting Schofield experience now ultimately is the best thing for the Cardinals, just as Washington's stint as starter the first seven games was, while Hayes rehabbed from back surgery. Early on, linebackers coach Matt Raich said, that made for some inconsistent (and at times, costly) showings from Washington. After the fact, it was the best thing that could have happened for Washington.
Now, for both Schofield and Washington, "it's kind of like, 'Hey, you're starting, you're getting all the reps this week, don't mess up,' " Raich said, while acknowledging that's impossible to ask of rookies.
Whisenhunt pointed out the first play from scrimmage against the Panthers, when Jonathan Stewart ripped off a 35-yard run. That was a play where he felt Washington could've shed his block and made the tackle for a much shorter gain.
Next time, hopefully that will change.
"I try to be a protégé to Joey and Clark, be a student the best I can," Schofield said. "But we talk about it all the time, that we are the future. You have to speak of those things."
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